A four-year legal dispute, and not lack of will by the authorities, is what has prevented an elderly woman, who is living in deplorable conditions, from getting a new home from the Rural Development Commission (RDC).
That was the position of Minister of Housing and Rural Development Denis Kellman as he visited the dilapidated Bathsheba, St Joseph home of 68-year-old Pearline Downes earlier today, despite a social report from a former RDC field officer which recommended “urgent attention” be given to the matter back in 2010.
In the meantime, Downes, who suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, will have to wait for relief, as she sleeps in a five-room house that is falling apart around her. The house, bought in the 1970s, had already been deteriorating before Tropical Storm Tomas passed at the end of October 2010 and dealt it a further blow.
Dismissing reports that the RDC had done nothing to assist Downes in her plight, Kellman explained there was a dispute over the ownership of the land and the RDC could not proceed with plans to build a new home for the pensioner.
“The only reason why this lady has not benefited from a house is because we found out that there was a dispute over the land. The first social study on the property was carried out in 1999. Since 2010, money was allocated for the construction of the house, but the RDC could not execute because of the land dispute. If we had built a house on the spot and someone had come forward and produced papers, the RDC would have lost that house,” he explained.
Downes’ plight had first been reported in another section of the media, and Kellman suggested that a “disgruntled officer of the RDC”, who has since parted ways with the commission, had gone to the Press “giving the impression that we have done nothing”.
“I am here today to give the lie to that story.”
“We are not neglecting Downes. We will do everything to see how we can assist her and correct the legal problem, even if it means referring the matter to another government department. This lady seems to be the rightful owner of the property and she should be entitled to the house we promised her,” Kellman added.
Barbados TODAY has obtained a copy of the social report, dated September 29, 2010, in which the RDC employee outlined the stumbling blocks to building a new home for Downes.
The report indicated that, as far back as then, it was recognized that her residence was in need of repairs.
“The top of the house is rusted, the boards are termite-infested and it has no bathroom facilities attached to it, or running water,” it stated.
The report indicated that while Downes owned the house, the land is family-owned and the person responsible for the land is Shirley Hazlewood who lives in the United States.
“I am unable to get the tax papers and permission papers from Ms Downes because she does not know where exactly in the USA Mrs Hazlewood resides. Apart from that I would recommend that urgent attention should be given to this matter,” the report added.
Kellman said he had visited Downes home today, with the intention of offering her a house, since a private contractor had given the assurance he would provide his services free of cost.
However, he said, the legal challenges had prevented that from taking place.
When asked what the next course of action would be to provide a housing solution for Downes, Kellman said: “If she can find an alternative spot tomorrow, we in the RDC will act.”